One could be forgiven for thinking President Trump wants to be impeached.
Last Thursday, on live television in front of the White House, Trump reiterated his call for Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, his leading rival in the 2020 election. He then invited China to do the same — “because what happened in China was just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine.”
Trump has never specified what he thinks Biden did. He has, however, engaged in a globe-spanning effort to get others to find out. It bears repeating that federal law prohibits soliciting anything of value from foreigners to aid an election campaign. But more to the point: Trump is making it abundantly clear that he intends to keep abusing his power to advance his personal interests. Congress can’t, and shouldn’t, accept that.
The rough transcript of the phone call revealing that Trump cajoled the president of Ukraine to dig up dirt on Biden — possibly in return for military aid that Trump held up — was disturbing. But the information that has come out since — both from the whistle-blower and those directly involved in the situation — is far worse.
It’s now clear the phone call was part of a broader campaign. Trump also dispatched his personal lawyer to discuss Biden with the Ukrainians, removed a career diplomat who raised questions about the scheme, then enlisted two State Department envoys to pressure Ukraine’s president to commit to investigating Biden in return for an audience with Trump — and perhaps, again, for military aid.
An exchange of text messages between Gordon Sondland, an ambassador tasked with carrying out Trump’s plan, and Bill Taylor, a diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine who raised concerns about it, makes the dynamic plain enough:
[9/1/19, 12:08:57 PM] Bill Taylor: Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?
[9/1/19, 12:42:29 PM] Gordon Sondland: Call me
Trump has barely bothered to establish an innocent explanation for these acts. Given the facts, it’s hard to imagine one. If he thought that Biden’s conduct constituted a crime, he could’ve allowed his Justice Department to handle it. If he discovered a previously unexpressed interest in fighting corruption overseas, he could’ve directed the State Department to make that a priority.
It would be fair game to ask whether Biden’s son Hunter unduly benefited from his father’s position in his business dealings, as some allege. But under no circumstances would it be appropriate for the president to send his lawyer on a freelance mission to ask other governments to investigate in return for personal favors. Even Trump’s stalwart allies and apologists struggle with this one.
Impeachment is never something to be celebrated. It risks doing grave damage to public confidence in government and worsening America’s already polarized politics. An election that cast Trump from office would be the soundest and most enduring rebuke to this presidency.
Nevertheless, Congress cannot stand by while any president violates his oath of office, abuses his power for personal gain and solicits foreign interference in American elections. Even in an administration where the reigning ethical standard is “not technically illegal,” this flagrant misconduct stands out.